Do I pay for mosquito spraying even though I think it's bad?
July 21, 2009 9:02 AM   Subscribe

How do I solve my mosquito dilemma? We live on a swamp. Swamps breed mosquitoes. Much as I hate the mosquitoes, they are part of our eco-system, and the frogs, toads and dragonflies depend on them. Our neighbors went in together and paid someone to spray the mosquitoes.

Since the spraying, I've been bitten a dozen times instead of hundreds. That's kind of nice, but...the mosquitoes are almost completely gone. We all knew we were buying homes on a swamp when we moved here. Given that the neighbors are going to spray anyway (I'm not going to persuade them it's a bad idea. They don't care) what should I do? Am I a total jerk if I don't pay for part of the spraying when when I enjoy the benefits - given that I really believe the spraying is wrong? Is it really as wrong as I think it is? I've googled, but people either are radically for it or hysterically against it, and I'm not sure where the truth lies.
posted by clarkstonian to Science & Nature (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, but mosquitoes also spread disease. I am not sure just where you live, so not all diseases may be relevant, but malaria and West Nile come to mind. Yes, we want to protect the ecosystem, but protecting against disease is really important and legitimate. It's more than a convenience/comfort issue.

Also, I don't know whether this applies, but mosquito populations can fluctuate year to year. Is it possible that the mosquitoes this year are way out of control compared to the normal level? I realize you bought a home on a swamp knowing the issues (and that is laudable to accept), but it's one thing to accept the normal conditions and another to accept unusual, above-normal bug populations when there is risk of disease and harm.

I think, if the populations are above-normal, the truth probably lies in spraying, but politely sharing your concern and noting that you may not want to participate in this every year.
posted by bunnycup at 9:13 AM on July 21, 2009

Am I a total jerk if I don't pay for part of the spraying when when I enjoy the benefits - given that I really believe the spraying is wrong?

Are they willing to consider other (more environmentally friendly) ways to deal with the mosquito problem? Up here in Maine, most people just buy dragonfly larvae.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:14 AM on July 21, 2009

Did they run it by you before spraying? If not, I don't see why you would even consider paying for it. If they do ask you to throw in on the cost, I would politely tell them that you do not wish to take part. Whether you "benefit" by being bitten less is not part of the issue -- I don't think any of the other info really matters here. You didn't ask for the spraying to take place, yet they went in together and bought it. You have no real part in this.
posted by runningwithscissors at 9:15 AM on July 21, 2009

Have they asked you to join in and help pay? If not, then do nothing. Neither draw attention to yourself for not participating, nor tell them that they ought not spray.

This, of course, assumes that they are not doing irreparable damage to the ecosystem by spraying. But I have neither the knowledge nor skill to assess that.

If they have asked you to participate, you can explain your position (I live on a swamp; mosquitoes are part of swamps; I don't spray mosquitoes), and politely decline participation.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:17 AM on July 21, 2009

Given that the neighbors are going to spray anyway (I'm not going to persuade them it's a bad idea. They don't care)

I interpreted this to indicate that the spraying has not yet taken place. If it already has, and you were not asked in advance, no I would not pay. My answer above assumed you were being asked pre-spraying whether you wanted to participate.
posted by bunnycup at 9:17 AM on July 21, 2009

I wonder if maybe there's some other improvement or service you can buy for the neighborhood. It would show you're still committed to improving the neighborhood but want some of the spending to be directed elsewhere.
posted by crapmatic at 9:20 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mosquito Magnets. They are non-toxic, miraculous and only affect a relatively small area. Probably cheaper than spraying too.
posted by fshgrl at 9:22 AM on July 21, 2009

If you like your neighbors and want a good relationship, offer to chip in next time.
posted by heather-b at 9:22 AM on July 21, 2009

Your opposition is completely understandable to me. You might put your time and money into research and education. You could find out exactly what and when and how much they are spraying, learn as much as you can about these chemicals, then educate your friends and neighbors, and lobby for the least harmful spray program. In my experience, Malathion is relatively nasty, whereas BT is relatively harmless. Authorities generally are becoming more careful about what chemicals they use and when they spray, but this is only because of concern from people like you. Keep at it. Here is some good info. (PDF)
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:30 AM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Investigate lower-toxicity sprays to recommend. "Neighbors, if you'd consider a less-toxic choice, I'd be happy to chip in."
Implement natural pest controls (can't hurt, might help some more).
Give some guilt money to an organization that repairs the planet in some manner, in the amount that you would otherwise have chipped in.

You have no obligation to help pay for something that is against your principles, even though you benefit.
posted by theora55 at 9:37 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I would pay. But I also believe that humans are part of the ecosystem as well, and by humans keeping mosquitoes in check, it's part of the balance. They still have plenty of swampland away from the houses to multiply.
posted by The Deej at 9:52 AM on July 21, 2009

I wouldn't say you're a jerk for not paying for the spraying. Technically, it's rational for you not to pay. The spraying of mosquitoes in a neighborhood is the provision of a public good, and it's technically not possible to exclude anyone from receiving the benefits of that spraying, nor does your use of the benefits reduce the amount of those said benefits.

When you have a situation like that - where the benefits are available to anyone and no one can be excluded, and the amount of the good doesn't get reduced when people use it (like sunlight) - this is called a public good. But, public goods are problematic for the very reasons you say in your question - they provide incentives to people to under-provide privately towards the public good. Your decision to enjoy the benefits of the spraying but not pay for it is called "free-riding." You're not a jerk, you're a free-rider. Not sure that makes you feel better or not.

If you believe the spraying is wrong, then you have the opposite problem, though. Technically, your neighbors are doing things which are harming you because presumably you are harmed knowing they are doing unethical things.

So, here's how I would answer the question. If your house was in the middle of nowhere, with no neighbors but thousands of mosquitos, would you have your house sprayed if it was affordable? If the answer is yes, then you're a free-rider. If the answer is no, then you're not.
posted by scunning at 9:53 AM on July 21, 2009

Incidentally, fwiw, public goods is one of the reasons economists say governments are justified to intervene in markets. If we relied on markets, there'd most likely be too many mosquitoes and too little spraying because of free riding.
posted by scunning at 9:54 AM on July 21, 2009

you're not a jerk if you don't pay. register your disagreement with the spraying and if they do it anyway, that's their damn problem. if you benefit from it (is the hardship imposed on the environment and possible toxicity to you a "benefit"), and they begrudge that benefit, tough.
posted by klanawa at 10:42 AM on July 21, 2009

2nding the mosquito magnet idea. it kills them, but not by using toxins. it's pretty localized--depending on how big your backyard is, it will take care of the problem there, but only there. your neighbors would benefit only in that it attracts & kills female mosquitoes, so the available breeding population decreases. reminds me that i need to get mine out and get it running.
posted by msconduct at 12:23 PM on July 21, 2009

Response by poster: Okay - to answer a lot of questions:

I understand that mosquitoes can cause malaria, but there's no malaria outbreak here. West Nile is endemic, but I haven't heard of any major cases this year.

Yes, they asked me to participate ahead of time. No, I wouldn't spray under any circumstances. I use a picardin spray, and it works fine for me.

We have had a lot of dragonflies. They were native here. There are fewer since they sprayed - but I don't know if that's because there are fewer mosquitoes, so the population has crashed, or if it's because the spray kills their larvae, as well as mosquito larvae, or if there is some other force at work.

Our drinking water comes out of the lakes. If we spray, are we poisoning ourselves? I'd be more concerned with that than with mosquito bites.

The spraying did already take place. There are now almost no mosquitoes.

We have a mosquito magnet. We all have a mosquito magnet. We live on a swamp. We are surrounded by stagnant water - acres and acres of it. A mosquito magnet doesn't do a lot. They do work well. We catch a bucketful of mosquitoes every year, but it's draining the ocean with an eyedropper. Also, mosquitoes can travel up to a mile to find their victims. I don't know if spraying could possibly have as much effect as we're seeing this year. I don't know why there are no mosquitoes, but there are none. Very few. Enough that I can walk in the woods, walk in the shade all day long without being bitten once.

I do believe people are causing harm by spraying. Again, they don't care. They moved into woods and immediately started cutting the trees. They moved into a habitat for squirrels and chipmunks and immediately started killing the squirrels and chipmunks. They have no intention of co-existing with nature, even though they could have easily bought into a sub where they'd never have to look at a bird, bug or animal. We bought our property specifically because we wanted nature as our next door neighbor, even when there are consequences.

I just want to pay my fair share, but in this instance, I'm not sure what it is. I don't want the neighbors to spray. I do enjoy not being bitten. That's my conundrum. I would personally find another way. I always have. I can afford to pay. The money is not the issue for me. I don't know how much harm they are doing to me and to everything around me.
posted by clarkstonian at 4:32 PM on July 21, 2009

Do you know what they sprayed exactly? That would be helpful for anybody interested in coming to better grips with if/how much damage they're doing.
posted by floam at 6:38 PM on July 21, 2009

I sure as hell wouldn't pay anyone to spray my drinking water, that's nuts.
posted by fshgrl at 7:13 PM on July 21, 2009

Response by poster: I don't - and I don't know if the neighbors know. I was kind of shocked at how effective it was. There were mosquitoes - then - there weren't.
posted by clarkstonian at 7:15 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hate mosquitoes with a passion as I'm semi-allergic to their bites and if someone sent in a guided genetic missile to POW! every single mosquito in the world I wouldn't shed a tear for them or the food chain (the frogs have other juicy alternatives, I'm sure). But if they were using a solution that threatens the drinking water I'd think twice. I don't think you have an obligation to contribute to something you've raised ethical concerns about, even if you do benefit from it on the side.

That said, are you 100% sure the pesticides they're spraying are harmful to humans? If your neighbors are aware that the lakes are their source of drinking water as well, it doesn't make sense that they'd hire a pest control company without doing a little research. Can you ask them or the company?

* Accidentally skipped over some parts. What floam said basically.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 9:29 PM on July 21, 2009

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